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Apple's Multi-Touch Patent Invalidated by USPTO

Foss Patents reports that the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has declared that the "Steve Jobs patent" is entirely invalid on a non-final basis.

This is the second Apple patent in less than two months that has been deemed as invalid, the first being the rubber-banding patent used against Samsung in Apple's recent landmark Apple v. Samsung jury trial. Like the current patent ruling, it too was deemed invalid on a non-final basis back in October, but non-final Office actions are typically preliminary.

According to the report, the USPTO issued a "first Office action" rejecting all twenty claims of "the Steve Jobs patent," otherwise known as U.S. Patent No. 7,479,949 ('949). It covers a "touch screen device, method, and graphical user interface for determining commands by applying heuristics". This rejection of the patent is not final, and can be later overturned following an appeal from Apple.

The patent in question was submitted in April 2008 and granted in January 2009. Steve Jobs is listed first as one of 25 co-inventors that includes former iOS chief Scott Forstall and engineer Bas Ording. In addition to Samsung, Apple also used this patent against Motorola, but Judge Posner declared that large parts of the patent were invalid, and only identified minor potential infringements on Motorola's part. This case was eventually dismissed.

"A computer-implemented method for use in conjunction with a computing device with a touch screen display comprises: detecting one or more finger contacts with the touch screen display, applying one or more heuristics to the one or more finger contacts to determine a command for the device, and processing the command," reads the patent's abstract.

Foss Patents reports that a reexamination request against the '949 patent was denied by the USPTO back in 2010. However a second request resulted in the opening of a reexamination proceeding, and the current invalidation of the patent in its entirety is a direct result of that second request.

"Many patent claims that are rejected at this stage do ultimately survive," Foss Patents writes. "There are many steps inside the USPTO, followed by a potential appeal to the Federal Circuit. But it would be a mistake to underestimate the significance of a first Office action. Also, a complete rejection of all claims of a given patent is potentially more devastating than one affecting only some claims."

As the report points out, even if both the touchscreen heuristics and rubber-banding patents were officially declared invalid, Apple still has thousands of other patents in its arsenal, including hundreds of multitouch patents.

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